Nidal Al-mughrabi
August 14, 2008 - 4:28pm

GAZA, Aug 14 (Reuters) - A patch of sand dunes on the Gaza Strip frontier, within view of Israeli border patrols, is all the haven that eight Palestinians on the run from Hamas have.

The men, members of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction who escaped a July 25 raid by Hamas police, had hoped that Israel would allow them out of the blockaded coastal territory and on to the relative safety of the occupied West Bank.

Israel admitted dozens of other Fatah loyalists at Abbas's request but says there has been no such intercession for the eight fugitives, who have survived three weeks in the sweltering heat thanks to food and water smuggled to them by a friend.

"Hamas wants us dead. They will kill us if we return, and Israel is not letting us in," one of the men, who gave his name as Ahmed, told Reuters by telephone. "If that happens, Abu Mazen (Abbas) bears responsibility for our deaths."

Hiding in plain sight outside the Erez border crossing does, however, offer the Fatah men some reprieve: Hamas gunmen will not approach for fear of being fired on by the Israeli army.

Islamist Hamas, which rejects Abbas's peace negotiations with the Jewish state, has been consolidating its hold on Gaza since it routed forces from the secular Fatah there last year.

A July 25 bombing which killed five Hamas gunmen and a girl prompted a bloody crackdown on remaining Fatah bastions in Gaza.

Ahmed said he and his comrades fled a raid on their house.

"They (Hamas police) attacked the house with RPGs and the house was set on fire. We went into open fields and hid among the trees," he said, acknowledging that his group was armed at the time and fired at the policemen.

A Hamas security official urged the group to give themselves in and undergo investigation.

"Their lives would not be in danger if they turned themselves in," said the official, who declined to give his name. "Those among them who committed offences would be prosecuted and those who did not would be freed."

An Israeli human rights group, Hamoked, asked Israel's High Court of Justice last week to let the eight Palestinians in. Responding to the petition, Israel's attorney-general said that would hinge on a request by Abbas.

Abbas aides could not be reached for comment on the case.

The latest round of Fatah-Hamas clashes in Gaza killed 11 people. About 180 members of the powerful, Fatah-linked Helles clan escaped to the Israeli border but only half were allowed to cross to the West Bank, where Abbas still holds sway. Some 60 others were sent back to Gaza, where Hamas arrested them.


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